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Sales tax passes by landslide

5/15/2013

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

Dean Haselhorst remained positive throughout. The Ellis County Commission chairman kept saying the county sales tax question would be approved by the voters.

He was right.

In Tuesday's special election, voters overwhelmingly approved a 0.5-percent county sales tax. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, the sales tax passed in a landslide, with 82 percent of the vote, 2,603 votes to 569. Turnout was at 18 percent of registered voters.

"I did feel confident, from Day 1," Haselhorst said Tuesday night at the Ellis County Courthouse.

"If I'm very positive, meet people on the street, that's my reflection toward them. If I'm negative, they're going to be negative. If you think you're going to win, or not, why not be positive? Every voter you meet, be positive. I think it showed tonight, by all the support of the Ellis County voters."

The sales tax, which will go into effect no sooner than Oct. 1, will go toward construction of an EMS/rural fire building, as well as expansion and renovation of the county jail, Law Enforcement Center and courthouse. The $14.3 million project will sunset after five years, or when it is paid off, whichever comes sooner.

Ellis County EMS Director Kerry McCue, head of the department since 1990, was excited about the results.

"Finally, it's coming to fruition," he said. "We're going to get a new facility. It's not a facility for us; it's a facility for the community. We're there to serve you out of that facility."

Ellis County Commissioner Barbara Wasinger was happy to see hard work pay off.

"I'm delighted," Wasinger said. "A lot of work by a lot of people. Grateful to the voters of Ellis County that came out and voted for it."

Now that the sales tax has passed, there still is a lot of work to do, starting with the Commerce Bank building -- where most of the county offices will move. Changes at Commerce Bank and the building at 601 Main are not part of the sales tax. They will be financed through the budgetary process.

Getting moved into Commerce Bank is a top priority, while at the same time getting started on finalizing architects' plans and starting the bidding process for the other projects.

"That'll be what people will see the most, initially," said Ellis County Administrator Greg Sund of the Commerce Bank building, which is due to be vacated June 16.

Sund said he hoped to have county offices relocated by March.

"We have the basic drawings of what you do for architecture, but there's a lot more work that has to happen now," Sund said. "We'll also begin right away with the architect on (the courthouse) and the EMS/rural fire building."

Sund estimated the EMS/rural fire building could be finished in approximately two years. He did not have a timeline for the jail and courthouse.

Sund started work on this project soon after he was hired in the summer of 2010. Now, there's still much to be done, he said.

"It's going to be good, hard work," Sund said. "It's going to feel good, because you're going to accomplish it instead of planning and not knowing."

Of course, the optimistic Haselhorst knew all along.

"I just think people, after they were informed, they could see the need," Haselhorst said.

What Haselhorst didn't foresee was the large margin of victory.

"I would never have dreamt it would have been by that large of majority," he said. "I was hoping we would win by 500 votes. Eighty-two percent is just overwhelming, I don't know what to say to that. It's overwhelming.

"We got to thank everybody in the county. I've got to thank my fellow commissioners; Greg has done a lot. We all worked together as a team."